Category: Travel Blog

Inspirations Brings India To London, Zurich And Nice

Posted By : Sanjay/ 243 0

An entourage of 30 leading boutique properties and experiences met more than 300 India specialists training them on their lodges, camps and hotels. Each event was geared towards informative conversation around India with the pure aim of raising awareness of hidden gems, identifying new itineraries and discussing how to boost business for 2019/20.

Properties in attendance included The Rajbari Bawali, Ajit Bhawan, Barefoot at The Andamans, Svatma Thanjavur, Niraamaya retreats, Sunderban Tiger Camp, Windamere Hotel, Jamtara Wilderness Camp, Lakshman Sagar and Anantya. Amongst the  visiting tour operators were Ampersand, Real Holidays, Greaves Travel, Trailfinders, A&K UK, Cox & Kings and Imagine Asia. Feedback on the events reflect that they are the perfect shows to catch up with so many hoteliers in a relatively short space of time, the hosts were charming, the food was delicious and everyone looks forward to next year!

Giving these B2B meetings some cultural background in London there was an incredible panel discussion on climate change and species extinction – what role tourism can play in conservation. Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London, led the discussion, asking the panellists to explain their work briefly and what they thought the tourism industry could do to help.

Duncan McNair, CEO of Save The Asian Elephant spoke measurably about the brutality metered out on elephants for use in captivity, tourism and religious festivals and called for an agreement on ethical behaviour from both consumers in the West and those involved in India and elsewhere.

Ian Redmond OBE used his 40 years of research and conservation work to implore the audience to travel more responsibly by offsetting their carbon on flights by adding a levy to their packages. Ian also highlighted the success of his work with gorillas to protect their environment and safety by limiting the number of tours, the distance from and interaction with them and the benefits to local communities with such programmes.

Dr Raghu Chundawat completed the line up as an expert on snow leopards and tigers and gave numerous examples of the successes in India to do with animal welfare and conservation which are more often than not omitted from news stories, both nationally and internationally.

The evenings were made possible through the generous support of: Airline Partner Oman Air, who gave two tickets away in a prize draw for flights to India; Sustainability Partner Save The Asian Elephant; Associate Partner Tres 2020 and Destination Partner West Bengal.

Indeed, the theme of the evenings revolved around West Bengal, looking ahead to Durga Puja, also called Durgotsava, the annual Hindu festival in October that reveres the goddess Durga. West Bengal provided stage decorations showing off celebrations of Durga Puja, images of the region adorned the walls and food was based on specialities from the state.

Many thanks also to Steve Davey who exhibited some of his award-winning photography around the venue to showcase West Bengal from a very personal point of view. Steve has captured many fragments of landscapes, people and their lives which come together to paint a very vivid picture of Incredible India.

Photos of the events can be found:

InsiprationsLondon

InspirationsZurich

InspirationsNice

3 Reasons Why Niraamaya Retreats, Kovalam, Is the Best Resort for Honeymooners

Posted By : Sanjay/ 217 0

India’s north-eastern regions are often overlooked by many tour operators. While you may not have heard of the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ (the seven far-flung states bordering Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh), great cities like Kolkata and hill stations such as Darjeeling are likely to offer at least a superficial familiarity.

Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, in Kovalam, is a gorgeous resort nestled amongst coconut trees, overlooking the Arabian Sea. Niraamaya translates into “a sense of well-being”, and this property is a haven of relaxation and rejuvenation. The idyllic beach setting, couple with flawless service, makes this destination the perfect location for honeymooners.

In fact, the property was awarded the “India’s Luxury Honeymoon Hotel’ award at the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2017, held at the Kulu Hotel, St Moritz, Switzerland. Over 300,000 international travellers vote every year for this coveted award, and Niraamaya won from amongst 800 contending properties.

Here are three reasons why Niraamaya Retreats, Kovalam, is the favoured destination for honeymooners:

Personalized Services

Providing a bespoke stay in every sense, Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, embraces the very essence of wellness. These wellness retreats can be specially designed, in consultation with world-class Ayurvedic experts, for honeymooners. The globally acclaimed spa boasts of splendid Ayurvedic treatments in the heart of Kerala. The packages also include focused diet routines, personalised sessions and more. The spa was awarded India’s Best Spa Award at the World Spa Awards 2015. The resort was also awarded the Luxury Boutique hotel of India at the Luxury Lifestyle Awards 2015 and the Best Ayurvedic and Wellness Centre the Asia Spa Award 2015.

Unique Couple Activities

Along with personalized wellness services, the resort offers uniquely crafted couple activities for honeymooners at Niraamaya, Surya Samudra. Guests can enjoy a private dining session by the sea under the stars or personalized services in their room. Couples can also dabble in romantic walks on the beach, or opt for excursions within and outside the resort. Above all, Niraamaya provides a pristine sense of solitude that appeals to couples who wish to have some alone time.

Specialized Accommodation for Honeymooners

Accommodation such as the Banyan Tree Bungalow, is specially designed for honeymooners. Featuring a private sit out, open-to-sky rain shower, private garden and more, it is perfect for a romantic retreat. In fact, all 31 cottages at the retreat are placed in between gorgeous coconut trees and palm groves, with some of them sporting a Keralian style of architecture. Placed in between charming rock gardens and a beautiful seaside setting, it is a superb place for honeymooners.

Your Stay at Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Posted By : Sanjay/ 218 0

India’s north-eastern regions are often overlooked by many tour operators. While you may not have heard of the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ (the seven far-flung states bordering Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh), great cities like Kolkata and hill stations such as Darjeeling are likely to offer at least a superficial familiarity.

As you traverse through the gorgeous Kanha National Park, you find the Singinawa Jungle Lodge, very close to Mukki Gate. The sky is a heart-warming mix of orange and pink, and you feel an immediate connection with nature and the surrounding wildlife.

Upon arrival, you are given a Tiger Paw shaped cookie and fall in love with this little  detail. One aspect of the lodge that stands out is the splendid décor – transporting you to a rural, rustic setting. Gond art murals cover the wall, and the color palette is bright yet soft.

Set on 110 acres of grassland and forest, at the edge of Kanga National Park’s buffer zone, Singinawa Jungle Lodge is a prime spot to seep in what nature has to offer. You take in the pristine views of the bordering Tannaur River.

Every inch of the resort is picture perfect. The resort is an extension of the wilderness, adorned by Sal, Jamun and Muhua trees. You walk across the meandering pathways of the resort and breathe in the extraordinarily fresh air. You spot a langur and wave at it – he gives you a polite nod and leaps away.

While booking, you had a well-rounded choice of rooms – 12 cottages and two bungalows. You decide to go with a luxurious and secluded stone cottage that features a cozy fireplace. You admire the rustic interiors and read a wildlife book that has been placed in the room. You observe every detail, especially those that encourage sustainability – such as the utilization of copper water bottles instead of plastic.

Outside your room, there is an entire world to explore within the lodge. You pay a visit to the lodge’s butterfly habitat, asking the naturalist various questions which he answers with aplomb. Opting for an Al-Fresco experience, you decide to take your delicious meal under a giant Sal tree – licking your fingers after you are done.

Placed within the lodge, the Kanha Museum of Life and Art you discover new facets of Central India’s Gond and Baiga tribe – both of which are intricately connected with the wild. The museum houses a grand display of resplendent regional art and you see beautiful work by Gond artists such as Durga Bai and Jangarh Sing Shyam, and Baiga artists such as Mangla Bai. Every artist has immemorial stories to tell through their work.

You try the experiences inside and outside the lodge. Your options are between local tribal performances, visits to the nearby villages to learn about their customs, peaceful nature and birding walks with experiences naturalists, volunteering in a nearby village school, photography tours, bicycle tours and more. For today, you choose to walk within the lodge, admiring the flaura, fauna and indigenous art. You decide that tomorrow will be a day filled with activities and trips to the local village.

After a long and relaxing day, you retreat to your room that is equipped with luxurious amenities. As you sleep, you take a piece of wildlife with you, reminiscing about all the treasures that you discovered today at Singinawa Jungle Lodge.

Stay at Svatma to Enjoy the Temples and Traditions of Thanjavur

Posted By : Sanjay/ 374 0

The opening of Svatma, a luxury property in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) back in 2015 was a cause for celebration among high-end tour operators. Long famed for its art and culture, the city lacked a hotel suitable for upmarket tours encompassing some of South India’s great sights.

The opening of Svatma, a luxury property in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) back in 2015 was a cause for celebration among high-end tour operators. Long famed for its art and culture, the city lacked a hotel suitable for upmarket tours encompassing some of South India’s great sights.

Today Svatma (which in Tamil means ‘one’s own soul’) is a well-established and highly-regarded property. Positioned between Chennai/Pondicherry and Trichy and Madurai, Thanjavur is now a regular halt on Tamil Nadu’s tourist circuit. Standing in a quiet neighbourhood a little south of the centre, the hotel’s motto is ‘heritage in residence’. The original heritage building, which today has seven unique rooms’, was built for European missionaries in the mid-1800s. Today the adjoining Millennium Wing, which stands in what was part of the original gardens, has most of the accommodation; although new it boasts a deft ‘heritage-chic’ style.

There’s a banqueting/function hall (which during my stay hosted a performance of Bharatanatyam – one of India’s famous genres of classical dance), two restaurants and a small enclosed swimming pool. Over and above the gym and yoga centre, Svatma’s spa specialises in treatments and therapies inspired by siddha, a form of traditional Tamil medicine.

Yet in all likelihood visitors will probably spend most of their time exploring the city and its hinterland. This region was the ancient heartland of the mighty Cholas, a dynasty which for centuries controlled much of the southern part of India. Perhaps their most outstanding legacy is a series of astonishing temples which today are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The so-called ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ showcase the extraordinary architectural skills of ancient India and Thanjavur’s 11th-century Brihadisvara temple is an utterly unmissable sight. Moated and enclosed by fortifying walls, the soaring masonry tower above its inner sanctum is a prominent landmark. Every day thousands of people – mainly Hindu pilgrims – throng its central courtyard exploring numerous subsidiary shrines before making offerings in the main shrine (which cocoons one of the country’s largest lingams).

Other well-known sights include the former royal palace of the medieval Nayak rulers (which includes a moderately interesting museum and a one-of-kind library of ancient manuscripts). Among the Cholas’ other famed legacies, the craft of bronze-casting for statues and idols continues much as it did a millennium ago. Plenty of workshops encourage visitors and will happily explain the entire process from initial crude-looking casts to the final beautifully-
finished product.

Silk weaving is another significant craft though competition from cheaper machine-made cloth, and not necessarily silk, means many of the region’s long-established weavers are now struggling to maintain their trade. Several ‘vedic schools’ (which offer a more traditional education) also allow visitors to drop by and hear vedic chanting, a time when their young pupils practice reciting the Vedas, Hinduism’s timeless sacred scriptures.

Amar Grover, April 2019

Inspirations spread the joy of India through London, Paris and Munich

Posted By : Sanjay/ 216 0

Inspirations recently spread the joy of India through London, Paris and Munich. An entourage of 30 leading boutique properties met more than 200 tour operators training them on their lodges, camps and hotels. Think speed dating but for industry experts. Each event was geared towards informative conversation around India with the pure aim of raising awareness of hidden gems, identifying new itineraries and discussing how to boost business for 2019.

Inspirations recently spread the joy of India through London, Paris and Munich. An entourage of 30 leading boutique properties met more than 200 tour operators training them on their lodges, camps and hotels. Think speed dating but for industry experts. Each event was geared towards informative conversation around India with the pure aim of raising awareness of hidden gems, identifying new itineraries and discussing how to boost business for 2019.

Tour operator attendees included the likes of Naturetrek, Cox & Kings UK, Red Savannah, Trailfinders and Steppes Travel, with feedback including: ‘The show was an apt platform for all the resorts I would love to meet and promote from India’, ‘Inspirations gives me a sound reason not to attend WTM’ and ‘absolutely enjoyed the presentation by Mr Ajeet Bajaj and the panel discussion’  . True testament to the quality of hosts and relevant participants.

Giving these educational meetings some cultural background there was an incredible talk from Ajeet Bajaj, who recently scaled Mount Everest with his daughter, the first father’daughter duo to do so. Author, Phejin Konyak also spoke about her latest publication, The Konyaks: The Last of the Tattooed Headhunters. Retracing the steps of her famous great grandfather and Konyak warrior Ahon it describes the culture in depth but is also a personal story full of melancholic emotions and ambiguous feelings as well.

To top the evening off in London there was a discussion with Sarah Miller (Sarah Miller & Partners, journalist, editor and consultant), Chris Caldicott (journalist  & photographer) and April Hutchinson from TTGLuxury around India’s ongoing potential in the UK, how current travel trends can be adapted for India’s success and what makes a good story.

The evenings were made possible through the vision of WindowToLuxury Director, Sanjay Mechery and his host of partners – Rare Destinations, TOFTigers and Oman Air who provided some tickets to some lucky prize draw winners.

Next year is the third instalment of Inspirations, watch this space to find out when and where it will be!

In the meantime, photos of the events can be found below as well as this short highlight video.

InsiprationsLondon

InspirationsParis

InspirationsMunich

 

For information about exhibiting or attending next year’s events please contact Sanjay Mechery.

Destination East – Highlights of West Bengal

Posted By : Sanjay/ 148 0

India’s north-eastern regions are often overlooked by many tour operators. While you may not have heard of the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ (the seven far-flung states bordering Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh), great cities like Kolkata and hill stations such as Darjeeling are likely to offer at least a superficial familiarity.

India’s north-eastern regions are often overlooked by many tour operators. While you may not have heard of the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ (the seven far-flung states bordering Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh), great cities like Kolkata and hill stations such as Darjeeling are likely to offer at least a superficial familiarity.

The gateway to this strikingly varied part of the country is West Bengal, among India’s most populous states. No other state touches both ocean (the Bay of Bengal) and mountain (Darjeeling and Kalimpong nestle firmly in the Himalayan foothills), and there’s enough here to easily fill a week’s travel as distinctive as other more visited parts of India. I recently attended the 9th edition of Destination East, a travel trade show designed to showcase and promote the region’s best offerings and hotels, as part of a press trip organised by Window To Luxury.

Kolkata, of course, is the area’s most practical and best connected entry point. It’s the northeast’s – and one of India’s – largest cities whose importance today belies its humble origins as an obscure riverside fishing village. It’s also a worthy destination, akin to Delhi or Mumbai: a place to linger for a couple of days rather than just pass straight through. Bengalis are famed for their cuisine, sweets in particular, and cultured Kolkatans take pride in a notably liberal outlook.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the city is its enduring Raj-era streetscapes. Ranks of aging yet mostly still-handsome buildings from its days as the capital of British India have survived and remain in use. The imposing General Post Office remains just that while the Writers Building still thrums with bureaucrats and clerks. Quiet Anglican churches retain their tranquil gardens and myriad memorials to long-forgotten grandees and soldiers, and the extraordinary white-marble Victoria Memorial looks almost as neat and tidy as it was when completed in 1921.

Yet overlaying all this heritage is modern Kolkata with its frantic markets, tumultuous bazaars and an immaculate metro. The astonishing Howrah Bridge with its intricate ironwork and huge girders hosts an almost biblical flow of people and traffic across the Hooghly River. Of the city’s thousands of Hindu temples and shrines, perhaps none evoke India’s enigmatic and profoundly religious traditions more than Kalighat’s Kali Temple. Here barefoot devotees deliver coconuts, flowers and other blessed offerings to a goddess who is both revered and feared in almost equal measure.

If or when the city gets a bit too frenetic, one of the best escapes is to its outermost rural fringes. Rajbari Bawali is a recently restored 250-year-old mansion oriented around a grassy courtyard framed by classical pillars. Once belonging to wealthy landowners, by the early 2000s the good times had long gone and the place was falling to pieces. Its bold if not brave restoration has involved architectural salvage, specially-made bricks and re-learning traditional techniques. Today it’s a stylish retreat with topical gardens, a swimming pool and fine food.

Barely three hours’ drive south of Kolkata, the Sunderbans is a world apart. Here the mouths of five main rivers including the Ganges and the Brahmaputra reach the Bay of Bengal. Their combined deltas form a complex web of channels, tidal streams, islands and mudflats almost entirely cloaked in the world’s largest tract of mangrove forest. Shared between India and Bangladesh, whose villages and hamlets nibble at its fringes, about 10,000km² is largely unpopulated.

Yet it is inhabited. Apart from its vast skies and tranquil waterways, one of the Sunderbans’ chief draws is the tiger. Surveys and camera traps suggest an estimated 87 live here and they have a reputation for being India’s strongest and fiercest specimens. Why? The tough terrain and relative lack of prey means just about anything – and anyone – is prey. These tigers will happily swim across rivers and channels because they simply have to. And they’ll think nothing of attacking villagers who stray into the wilds to collect honey or fish or find crabs.

From Sunderban Tiger Camp we set off in a small cruiser for a full day amidst the mangroves. Turning into a long broad channel, all semblance of the modern world fell away and it wasn’t long before we encountered the other ‘star’ resident species: enormous saltwater (or estuarine) crocodiles sunning themselves on sandbanks. Some were skittish, sliding away into the river at first sight or sound of our approach, while others remained dead-still and seemingly oblivious to our presence.

Yet tigers remained elusive. There was fleeting excitement when one of our on-board naturalists shushed as all saying “Alarm call!…” As the boat’s engine died we repeatedly heard the distinctive urgent grunt of a macaque somewhere nearby in the forest. And later we saw fresh muddy tiger-paw prints heading down one riverbank and straight up the other side. Winding in and out of channels, across more open stretches of water and then into another narrow watery braid, the only constants were dazzling sunshine and a clear blue sky, not to mention idyllic summer-like temperatures.

At its other northern extremity, West Bengal ends just short of some really muscular Himalayan peaks. Only tiny Sikkim stands between it and Tibet. Long famed for its distinctive tea, Darjeeling first came to the attention of the British in the early 1800s because of a regional conflict and its spectacular location. Initially developed as a sanatorium, it soon became an exotic hill station with a vibrant social scene centred on stuffy colonial clubs.

Today Darjeeling remains as popular as ever and for Bengalis it’s still the pre-eminent hill station with fresh mountain air and fine views. Completed in 1881, the celebrated ‘toy train’ is arguably the most charming (though certainly not the quickest) way to reach town. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its 88km of narrow-gauge track wind up through the hills repeatedly crossing the main road and often passing just feet from line-side buildings.

Darjeeling is centred on car-free Chowrasta and The Mall. Overlooking both is pine-clad Observatory Hill, still home to Windamere, the town’s oldest and most famous hotel where meals are served by white-gloved waiters and afternoon tea comes with crackling wood fires in wood-panelled rooms.

You might be diverted by the Natural History Museum or the Botanical Gardens but the museums attached to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute help underpin the town’s main attraction – superb views of the Himalayas. Among the seemingly endless line of peaks even Everest is faintly visible though it’s 28,000ft-high Kanchenjunga (the world’s third-highest mountain) on the nearby Nepal-Sikkim border which really commands the eye.

Although most of these mountains are visible from town, many visitors typically opt for a short pre-dawn drive up to Tiger Hill (which is around 1500ft higher) and its viewing tower for incredible much-celebrated 360° vistas.

Spend any time in Darjeeling and you can’t help but notice maroon-robed Tibetan monks in its streets and shops. They’re part of a significant Tibetan community which has built several Buddhist monasteries and temples in and around town. The small yet beautiful Ghoom Monastery is well worth visiting but it’s the huge Dali Monastery and its numerous halls and outbuildings that gives a stronger flavour of monastic life.

Many of the surrounding hillsides are carpeted with picturesque tea plantations producing the famous fine-flavoured tea synonymous with Darjeeling. Some estates encourage visitors and you’ll very likely be shown several stages of the tea-producing process which has changed little in over a century. It’s still plucked by hand (mostly by women) and two-leaves-and-a-bud remains the pluckers’ mantra.

Now, anyone for tea?

 

© Amar Grover 2019 (words and images)

Amar was a guest on the Window to Luxury press trip to Destination East, organised by director Sanjay Mechery. For further information about programming this destination and the hotels reviewed, please contact Sanjay Mechery.

Amar Grover is a London-based travel writer and regular visitor to India. His articles have appeared in most of the UK’s broadsheet newspapers and quality travel magazines.